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USMS 2017 Spring Nationals - Swim

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Riverside, California
United States
US Masters Swimming
Total Time = 00m
Overall Rank = /2026
Age Group = M 45-49
Age Group Rank = 0/114
Pre-race routine:

This is my third time competing at USMS Nationals. My race reports from the last two years are


For those who don't know, I am an adult onset swimmer. I originally joined a masters swimming group to learn to swim for triathlons. I did not swim competitively in youth (only golf). I could swim but actually needed to take a remedial swim class to graduate college.

I did tris from about 2005 to 2012. For various reasons, I stopped doing tris at that time but continued to swim. I first qualified for USMS Nationals in March 2015 in what turned out to be a significant surprise at the time. Much of that story is in my report from that year.

In 2015, everything was new. Wonderment. Excitement. A fabulous experience. In the 2015 Nationals, I was able to make the qualifying time not only in the 50 fly that I originally qualified in, but also the 100IM, 50 back, and 50 free. Last year, I had learned a lot. I made significant refinement to my technique. I dropped time in 5 of 6 events and was able to add both the 100 back and the 50 breast to my event list that I qualified for Nationals. I take significant pride in the fact that I have made the National Qualifying Time (NQT) in all four strokes.

One thing that proceeded both prior Nationals was my spending time in physical therapy. In 2015, I did too much too soon and also injured a groin by slipping on some ice. Last year, I significantly injured a hip while doing pilates. Even this year, I still feel the hip on occasions.

This year, I was healthy. I made the decision to go to Nationals in January. I focused a lot of attention on preparing as best that I could. I got very clean in my diet. I more or less stopped anything that wasn't made by Mother Nature. Well, an adult beverage in the evening. But only 1 instead of 2 or 3. The end result is that I dropped over 15 lbs and got down to my tri-competition weight. I could see my abs again.

I also focused on doing a significant amount of complementary dry-land exercises in addition to some additional pool time. At least two days a week, I did increasingly more challenging core work. Also tried to focus on shoulder strength as well as jumping/explosion moves. In writing this report after the fact, I think that I want to continue this work and potentially enhance it. It translates well to a lot of things.

I competed in 3 local swim meets in January to March leading up to this year's Nationals. I was able to set personal best times in 3 events, the 50 back, 100 free, and 50 fly. PRs in my 3 main strokes had me feeling good about my prospects for Nationals.

Actually, the 50 fly is worthy of some additional commentary. That was the event that I first qualified in, back in 2015. But anyone watching me actually swim a stroke of fly would wonder how on earth I could swim it well enough to go to Nationals. I had an ugly and inefficient fly stroke. What I could do well, and what basically qualified me, was my ability to underwater dolphin kick (UDK). In the 50 fly, you can UDK about 3/4 of the race. And I did. At the 2016 Nationals, the one event that I did not set a PR in was the 50 fly. I tried my UDK technique but felt that I had maxed it out, or close to it. I knew that I had to change to improve.

I have now learned how to swim fly. People who look at my stroke now say that I have a beautiful, graceful fly. And in the meets earlier this year, my times progressively improved. From 27.20 at last Nationals, to 26.93 in January. To 26.53 in February. To 26.29 in March. This latter time had me seeded 14th in my age group out of 45 registered. In looking at the seeds, I felt that I had an outside chance of getting a top 10 result which would win an award. I figured that I'd have to go under 26 seconds to do it, but it what I was hoping for. What I thought I was capable of doing.

My swim training since January has been good. I was regularly able to be in the water. I was smart about how I increased my volume, frequency, and intensity (lessons learned from prior years). Whenever I felt my body struggling to deal with the demands, I backed off and let it settle in.

I also had an actual taper this year. Starting two weeks out, I cut back on my volume. Some intensity too. I also stopped doing the strength work.

So I felt that I was in good shape from a physical stand point. I had gotten my body right. I had put in good strong work in the water. I was stronger physically, than in the past several years.

One thing that I could not control, however, was some work related stress. The two weeks leading up to Nationals was very stressful. Some late nights. I also found myself waking up early before the alarm, having gotten only 5 to 6 hours of sleep. I don't think that I had more than 6 hours of sleep any night in the two weeks leading up to Nationals.

It was with this background that I flew cross-country to Riverside CA for this year's Nationals. I flew on Thursday, the day before I was to race. My planes were fortunately on time. Upon my arrival in CA after a 4+ hour flight, my phone almost blew up with many texts and emails from work related problems. I spent much of the rest of the day dealing with that. And on Friday morning, the day of my first events.

I did try to put aside the work stress. After landing and having a few calls from the airport, I got my rental car and drove to the pool site. Distance events were going on. I was able to check in and walk around the venue. I have to admit, I was quite surprised that USMS decided to host Nationals at this location. While the pool was large enough, there were limited seats, particularly with shade, and very limited locker room space. Literally 15 lockers for each of men and women. The changing area was maybe 15 feet by 20 feet. At most. 2,000 swimmers were coming. Everyone putting on tech swim suits which take a few minutes to get on. Yeah, This was going to go well.

I did get in the pool to loosen up. The competition pool opened and I swam a bit to get a feel for the look, the sides, and the starting blocks. I left the complex about 4:30 and battled famous Los Angeles area traffic. I crawled my way to a grocery store for food for my stay and then to my hotel. It was past 7PM by the time I was in my hotel room. Past 8PM when I had dinner, or 11PM my normal (Eastern) time.

In the previous two years, I spent the night before mentally going through my races the next day. I tried to do that but my mind kept moving over to the work issues. I did shave my body that night. I had (smartly) shaved my body the previous weekend while at home. This was more touch-up shaving which goes much easier and faster than doing it for the first time in a year.

I went to bed trying to focus on tomorrow's swim. Work thoughts kept popping in. And my sleep schedule continued with maybe 6 hours at most. Friday morning, race day, had me on the phone before 7AM PDT. My first event wasnt until a bit after noon. So I spent much of the morning dealing with work. I headed to the pool late morning in a not good mood.

I actually warmed up at a gym that has branches throughout much of the country including one about a half mile from my hotel. Their pool was quiet. The exact opposite of what I knew awaited me at the competition site. Warmup lanes at Nationals usually have 10-20 people in them. Forget about trying to get into a rhythm. But at the gym pool, I was able to warm up as I wanted. I did so and headed to the competition pool.

Once there, I tried to find a place to sit in the shade. I had not appreciated this before going, but Riverside and really So. Cal. more broadly, has much of a desert climate. The dew point (measure of moisture in the air) was in single digits. So it was bright, bright sunshine. Not a cloud in the sky. Temps grew from mid 50s overnight to mid/upper 80s in the afternoon. I live in a northern climate where we had snow on the ground 3 weeks prior. To say that I had absolutely no tan would be generous. I knew that my body and skin would burn very quickly if I was not in the shade. So I had to find a seat in the shade.

Of course, others had much the same thought. But I was persistent and found a spot in the one shaded set of stands. I ended up making some friends there over the next few days. So that was good.

I was there to swim, of course. I had to change to get on my tech suit. I actually went into an adjoining condemned building that was beside one of the warmup pools to change. The bathroom in it didnt function but there weren't bodies everywhere climbing over each other putting on suits either. So I was able to get on my suit in relative peace.

I warmed up again in my race gear. My first event of the day was the 50 fly. My biggest focus in leading up to Nationals.
  • 00m
  • 100 yards
  • / 100 yards

I was in the 2nd fastest of 5 heats for my AG. Each heat had 9 swimmers. So I knew that the winner of my heat would most likely win a top 10 award. I hoped to do so.

My race can be watched on the following video at the 5:10:30 time mark. I am in the purple cap with a suit part black and part light blue. Lane 2

I have a good start. I dolphin aggressively for a stretch but much less than in prior years. I found that I was faster stroking than UDK. I also learned to breathe only once each length. In watching the video, I am at the lead or maybe 2nd when approaching the far flags. I recall my stroke timing being off a touch approaching the wall. I had to kick an extra time and sort of glide in to my turn. The video cuts off the actual turn. But when I am back in the video at the flags coming off the wall, I am half a body length behind the leaders and about 7th of 9 overall.

I don't know that at the time and I swim for all I am worth. I swim hard taking only 1 breath on the return leg. I pass some people and close the gap on the leader. Where I missed the timing on the turn, I hit it on the finish. Really good way to close. I soon learn that I went 26.20, a new PR. 4th in the heat. The video showed me about a 2 feet behind 1-3 places, two of whom ultimately finished in the top 10 with times 25.61 and 25.68. The third place in my heat was 25.73, just off the podium. The margins are that thin. For me, it was 2 feet that came out of the timing at the turn. I end up 13th of 45 in the AG. That strong finish paid off though as 3 other swimmers were between 26.20 and 26.28.

Before my next event was the 200IM. Ryan Lochte was at Nationals and swum the 200IM. He definitely drew a crowd. Everyone was watching. Looking at the big picture, this was an event that had pretty much the top non-professional and non current D1 swimmers. There were lots of former D1 and olympic swimmers there. Lochte was in probably the fastest heat of the 200IM. He was so dramatically better than anyone there. Unbelieveable. He was a body length ahead after 30 yards. He blasted out the fly, back, and breast portions. He relaxed and cruised in the free portion. Barely tried on the free. He finished 4+ seconds ahead of anyone and only 2 seconds off the national record. Incredible.

I had about 2 to 3 hours before my next event, the 100 freestyle. I had not actually swum a qualifying time in this event yet in my life. I swam it for the first time in years at a local meet earlier this year and went 57.70, above the 56.95 NQT. I felt pretty good about being able to make the NQT and that was my goal.

In practice on Tuesday before flying out, I was doing "hard" 50s and coming in about 28.5 seconds (without starting blocks which save 2-3 seconds). I felt that I could sustain that pace for a full 100. I made the decision then to try to mimic that stroke and intensity in the 100 free. So I got up on the blocks with that in mind.

7:46:45 time mark, 3rd lane from the top.

I had a good start and I dolphin a couple times and get to the surface. Start stroking. I can tell, however, that I'm not in the same rhythm that I had in practice earlier in the week. I felt off. I stroke hard and have good turns. I pace it well and have reasonable lengths for 2 and 3. I am pushing hard but not over the top. I have a good last turn and then try to give it all I have on the last length. My kicking picks up and I try to improve my turnover. Breathe 3 times in the length.

I touch the wall and look at the scoreboard. I finished 4th in the heat with a 56.50. A PR by over a second and under the NQT. That makes 7 events in which I have made the NQT.

I go cool down and think about my races the next day, the 100IM and the 50 back. I wait for the day's races to end and go spend time in the racing pool to see how the backstroke views are. Swimming backstroke outside is different than indoors. There is no ceiling to look at to help keep on track. One has to either use peripheral vision to watch the lane lines or use other visual land marks like stadium lights to help keep on the right line.

I leave the stadium and battle traffic again. I go to a different grocery and pick up a few more things. Back to the hotel for dinner and a call to the family. I have a bit more success focusing my mind on the races tomorrow. Work does creep in though.

Saturday, April 29
I don't sleep well again. Or I should say that I sleep deeply but not more than 6 hours. I wake before dawn, still somewhat on East Coast time. I do try to sleep more and stay in bed until well after dawn. I shower and shave again.

My events are much closer together today with the 100IM and 50 back about 1.5 hours later. I go straight to the meet site so that I can participate in the competition pool warmup. I go off the blocks, both front and back starts. I swim in the lanes that I'll be competing in later to get the feel for each. I try to check the visuals on backstroke for both the 100IM as well as the 50 back. Everything seems good.

My 100IM:
6:16:00 time mark.

I felt like I swam it well. I hit all of my elements. No glaring issues. Starts and turns ok. In watching the video, I am at the front after the fly leg. On the backstroke, about 4 people pass me. My split of 29.88 is surprisingly slow. I must not have pushed the backstroke hard enough. My breaststroke pull out was fantastic. I gained a body length on the field with that. I give that back, however, on the remainder of the breast stroke. I turn for home and swim hard to the finish. I feel like I found the freestyle rhythm that I was looking for yesterday. I touch and look for my time. 1:04:34, over a second slower than I swam it a year prior. Huh? Really? Mkay. Not sure how that was the case but it is what it is.

Ryan Lochte soon thereafter steps up on the blocks for the 100IM. He blows away the field and sets a new national record at 47.71. Unreal.

I go and cool down. Try to focus on the 50 back which is up next. Try to figure out the sun angles and its expected impact on visuals and sight lines. I also mentally go through how I want to sprint the 50 back. Focus on turnover and kick. Turnover and kick. That's how I set a new PR earlier in the year. Turnover and kick.
8:00:00 time mark. I'm in the farthest lane.

I have a really good start. I was first off the blocks. I dolphined a few times and got to the surface. Turnover and kick! GO!!! The race was very close as we approached the 15 meter mark. My complete focus was on my stroke and not at all on where I was in the lane. I brushed the lane line with my shoulder. YOU HAVE TO GET OVER! And I did. For reasons that I still don't know, I went under the lane line and swam a bit in the next lane. I contacted the swimmer in that lane. WHAT? How did that happen???? I stopped and pulled up, looked around. I realized that I was in the wrong lane. What the hell was I doing there? I went back to my own lane and finished the race. But I knew that I was DQed. And as I got out of the pool, an official confirmed that. It wasnt even debatable.

My emotions ran the gamut. I was furious with myself in some respects. I was also incredulous. What could possibly possess me to cross into the next lane? How did I not pay any attention to where I was in the lane? I cannot be certain on this point, but my suspicion is my poor sleep finally came to the forefront. I don't think a rested mind makes those mistakes.

I leave the pool without even bothering to cool down.

I find that I have gotten sunburned despite my constant attempts to stay out of the sun. Face, shoulders, arms, especially. My lips are burned. It wasnt a bad burn anywhere but enough to be tender and sensitive.

Another night of questionable sleep length. I do stay in bed until past dawn. I get up and shower/shave for the last time. I get a text from my coach. I call her and we talk about yesterday and today. A good conversation.

My first event, the 50 free, is about 10:50AM. I go to the gym again to warm up. Nice having my own lane. I also get to the competition pool in time for the 30 minute pool warmup. I work on my starts both front and back. I have some hard 25s going off the blocks to get my HR up and work on my sprint technique. I'm shaking off yesterday and focusing on today.

The videos for Sunday are not yet posted as certain copyrighted music was played over the loud speaker during warmup. Hopefully they will get that straightened out so that folks can watch the video. But as of writing this RR, it wasnt available.

My 50 free heat came up. I got on the blocks to give it my all. My start is so so at best, actually the worst of the 4 in the meet. My breakout and stroke is good. I feel fast and go well. I breathe once on the out leg. My turn was cautious. I go as hard as I can on the return leg. I don't breathe that length either. Only 1 the whole 50. I touch the wall. My time was 24.70. Second fastest that I've done it, but certainly not the 24.17 that I did it in last year. I don't know what more that I could realistically do though. Its the first time that I've done it with only 1 breath.

My last event is the 100 back, about 3 hours later. Its early afternoon and the sun is right overhead. Dead square over the lane on lengths 2 and 4. I was not going to make the same mistake twice, however. I would focus on staying in the lane.

The numbers in my age group were low in the 100 back. In fact, the winner of my heat would get a top 10 finish and a medal. I was hopeful that I could have a strong swim and win that award. The seed times of others in the heat were near me. I was the 3rd fastest seed. Based on that, I had a chance.

My start was good. I stroked hard and efficiently, ensuring that I stayed in the lane. Good turn, not great. Coming back length 2. Yes, the sun is right there. I tried to angle my head so that the glare wasn't so tough. Another reasonable turn. Pick it up. Last turn and the final length. Ooph. Is this race done? I am really hurting. GOOOO!!!! GIVE IT ALL YOU GOT!!! I swam as hard as I could. Picked up my kick on the last length. Stayed in the lane. Closed hard knowing I had given all that I could. I touched in 3rd for the heat. 1:07.17, about a half second slower than my PR.

It turned out that I finished 11th in my AG. I wasn't close to 10th though. Again, I knew that I swam it as hard as I could. I was light-headed afterwards and it took awhile to recover from the effort. But I was fine once I did.

That 100 back was my final race. I watched a bit more before leaving and going to visit with a cousin who lives in the area.
What would you do differently?:

This was my third Nationals and first time that I did not predominately set new PRs. Yes, I did in the 50 fly and 100 free. But the others were all off my PRs. I leave with a mixture of feelings.

I am very proud that I have improved to where I can realistically compete for a top 10 finish at Nationals in the 50 fly. I am also very proud that I now have achieved the NQT in seven events, including all four strokes. For someone who's first competitive swim was at age 41, that is a wonderful set of accomplishments.

I do have to ponder why the other events were not as successful as in the past. My preparation was the best it has ever been. It is hard to say that I could realistically have been better prepared than I was. For elements that I could realistically control, my process was very good. I also know that I gave very hard efforts. That was not the issue either. So I am left with the questions, 1) am I getting slower now due to age? (have I reached my peak?) 2) Was my significant work stress and lack of sleep that impactful? 3) How much effect did the desert conditions have on my body coming out of winter climate?

I am leaning towards the latter 2 as the most likely. I had set PRs in 3 strokes in 2017. Even when I wasn't shaved, tapered, and as fit.
Post race
What limited your ability to perform faster:

Instead of identifying limiters, I am using this section for reminders for the future. Next year will be in Indianapolis where my company is headquartered. It will also be inside so that I wont have to deal with the strong sun.

1) I really liked the core work focus that I started in January. It felt right and I want to continue it.

2) I want to improve my shoulder strength. More pushups and other shoulder strength exercises.

3) Consider continuing the core and shoulder strength work until maybe a week from Nationals. I felt that I lost a bit of strength in the 2 week taper. I was unquestionable stronger than in prior years. But this might take it to the next level.

4) Shaving the weekend before is definitely the right move.

5) Its definitely more fun going with team mates. Last year, I had 5 team mates at Nationals and it was much more fun being part of a group.

6) I'm going to think long and hard about swimming in such a dramatically different climate in such a long way from home.

7) Every element of a 50 is important. The smallest elements can make the difference between a podium spot or not.

8) It is a very positive energy experience going to an even like Nationals. Many friends and colleagues express significant admiration towards me that I do this.

9) That said, the novelty of going has warn off some. It is a significant commitment.

10) I tried to minimize the impact of my preparation on my family. I did a lot of my work at lunchtime or before they got out of bed. My being away for the weekend wasnt easy on them. They had a lot going on.

11) I felt good about my preparation. January is a good time to start. My process was very strong.

12) I can't believe that I am so close to the top 10 in my age group. That is a very cool fact.

Event comments:

Many I am sure like the outdoor pool in a climate such as Riverside has. It was tough on a northern guy like me. The facilities were less than ideal for such an event. I was surprised that USMS decided to host the event there. Folks made do with what was available. But I found it a distant third behind San Antonio and Greensboro.

The people running this event and the volunteers are fantastic. You cannot ask for more or better. Just wonderful.

Last updated: 2017-04-23 12:00 AM
00:00:00 | 100 yards | / 100yards
Age Group: 0/114
Overall: 0/2026
Start type: Plus:
Water temp: 0F / 0C Current:
200M Perf. Remainder:
Breathing: Drafting:
Waves: Navigation:
Post race
Weight change: %
Mental exertion [1-5]
Physical exertion [1-5]
Good race?
Course challenge
Organized? Yes
Events on-time?
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks?
Post race activities:
Race evaluation [1-5]

2017-05-06 10:47 AM

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Rochester, NY
Subject: USMS 2017 Spring Nationals

2017-05-06 9:01 PM
in reply to: #5219829

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West Chester, Ohio
Subject: RE: USMS 2017 Spring Nationals

You have accomplished a lot in your swimming--especially as an a adult onset swimmer.  
Well executed and performed!  The time zone difference combined with your work stress would add a bit of challenges to an already challenging weekend of swimming.  

Great work!!

2017-05-22 3:52 AM
in reply to: QueenZipp

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Canandaigua NY
Subject: RE: USMS 2017 Spring Nationals

Great job Rob!  You missed your calling growing up! 

Sounds like a solid plan for the event next year!!

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